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The Falls of Niagara
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782) and Studio
The Falls of Niagara
Undated
Oil on canvas
100.3 x 136.5 cm
39 1/2 x 53 3/4 in.
N01891
P178A
The Niagara River and its great waterfalls form part of the Canadian and American border
Possibly from J.M.W. Turner's collection; bequeathed to the National Gallery, London by Richard and Catherine Garnons, 1854; transferred to the Tate Gallery
Unsigned; no inscription
The sky is possible for Wilson, as are the birds and the light ground
The first European to see the falls was Father Hennepin, a French priest, whose description in 1678 made them one of the wonders of the world. Wilson never saw the falls in person but was able to work from a drawing made on the spot in 1768 by a military draughtsman, Lieutenant Pirie of the Royal Artillery.
E26 Byrne after Pierie after Wilson, View of the Cataract of Niagara, with the Country adjacent, The British Museum
E26A Byrne after Wilson, View of the Cataract of Niagara, The British Museum
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The composition is unique in Wilson's oeuvre, lacking any distinct foreground or closing screens at the sides. It is thus, in Solkin's words, 'a rare example of unmitigated Sublimity'. Whether this version is actually another interpretation of Pierie's sketch, or derives from P178 in the collection at Wolverhampton Art Gallery or Byrne's engraving is uncertain. According to Constable, the picture was little more than a lay-in but there are good grounds for regarding it as by Wilson, though it has been attributed to Turner. It is related, especially in the treatment of the sky, to the impressionistic River and Cloud (WGC pl. 129) and River: Evening (WGC pl. 129b).
WGC, pp. 95, 130, pp. 230-31, pl. 126c
Constable noted that this painting was, for many years, considered as one of the Garnons Bequest of pictures that came from Colomendy House, where Wilson died. An alternative source, first proposed by Martin Davies (National Gallery Catalogues, British School, 1946, p. 177) is the Turner Bequest of 1856.
According to Kate Lowry:
The sky is finished, but the foreground and falls themselves are unfinished, with large areas of pink ground left visible